Design Discussion: On Collecting and Displaying CG Artwork

Hiya friends!

With the Patreon rerelease drawing ever nearer I’ve been working on the CG part of the game. Every good H-game has some killer art to collect (usually referred to as CGs), and Altarune is no different. As I just got done designing the first CG unlocking minigame I thought now would be a good time to kick off a little sub-series I’ll be doing about the game’s design. I will discuss some of the more interesting challenges faced when designing Altarune systems, and how I solve them.

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Even though it’s not the main focus of the game I knew I wanted it to have some nice artwork for the player to collect. Altarune already has a lot going on with its three modes of play, so I had to figure out how and where these CGs then would best fit in.

The first and probably most obvious solution is to award an image at certain key parts of the story, or when a player performs a certain task or triggers an event – basically, a visual achievement system. It’s easy to understand for players and technically trivial to implement. Simply throwing a CG at the player at random points however does feel a bit boring to me personally. And while the dungeoneering mode will have plenty of sexual enemy encounters (which will be its own design post later), the main story line won’t feature much sexual content at all. This would mean that the CG is effectively relegated to enemy encounters. Which is okay, but does create a few unpleasant consequences, which in turn lead to some guidelines I created:

  • With CG being essentially a reward for sexual monster encounters you are forcing the player to go through them if they wish to see them all. As these encounters will influence the girl’s personality (likes and dislikes, attitude towards sex, etc.), I want these experiences to be completely optional. I don’t want a player having to lose something, or be forced to play in a specific way in order to unlock the art. With few exceptions, collecting the CGs should be entirely free of consequences.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, we could flip things around entirely. We could make the monster encounters consequence-free, and basically just be a vessel for CG awarding. This however greatly diminishes the value of these encounters, as once the CG has been rewarded they will feel less far meaningful. The need to collect artworks should not impose on the core gameplay experience.
  • Lastly, having the CGs be awards for sexual enemy encounters kind of paints me into a corner a little bit as it forces me to accept one of two things:
    1. Not every type of enemy awards an artwork, making some more valuable than others. This diminishes the experience of the encounters that don’t (they will intrinsically feel less worth it, because “all the good ones get CGs”) and just feels inconsistent, which I don’t like.
    2. Every type of enemy awards an artwork, which can mean a lot of art, and that’s a big commitment. I don’t want my enemy design be dependent on whether or not I can get a good CG out of it.

So all of that is just to say that I wanted a totally different approach. There will probably still be some CGs awarded just as the story progresses, but those will be relatively rare. For anything else I needed a different solution.

Another common approach would be to make them collectable just like anything else in the game. Stuff them in chests, make them enemy drops, that sorta thing. This feels rather uneventful however, and makes them have less impact on the player. In general I still want the player to be involved in getting them in some way.

Enter: minigames.

I was a little hesitant at first to add yet another “mode” or layer of complexity to Altarune, but I really do believe that it’s the best fit for this case. These minigames can be completely optional, side-effect free, and have the added benefits of easily adding tiered rewards for CG variants and add a little bit of replayability. It satisfies all the constraints I had put out, and even adds a little bonus!

For example, let me walk yoy the very first minigame: Reconstruction. Every dungeon’s 5th or so floor will feature a landmark resting place to heal up some. This could be a big tree on the plains, a big rock casting shade in the desert, etc. When the player plays as Nekome (which they will by default at the start of the game) and goes to rest at the tree a popup may show up stating a nearby slime is considering trying to steal her clothes as she sleeps. It is clearly marked as a CG event and ends with the question “Do you wish to try?”. If the player selects “yes” the minigame starts.

The player is then presented with a scroll featuring the first CG, with some parts of the image missing. Playing as the slime the player’s goal is then to guide the blue little blob to those spots, restoring the image. The controls are simple (left and right to steer), but the player is constantly fighting a random “jerk” in the slime’s direction. They have a set amount of time before Nekome wakes up, with her waking faster whenever the slime is not restoring a spot. The game ends when the sleep bar is fully depleted.

A WIP pass of the Restoration minigame, with a placeholder CG. The final version will have the missing spots be placed on areas of interest, such as the chest when attempting to steal the top of her kimono.

Should the player succeed in restoring the entire image in time however they will be awarded the artwork and are allowed to continue to level 2 for the next variant. In this case the available variants will be:

  • Nekome sleeping underneath the tree fully clothed.
  • Sleeping with the top of her kimono pulled sideways, revealing her chest.
  • Sleeping with the bottom of her kimono also pulled sideways and her skirt off, revealing her maebari.
  • Sleeping fully nude.

Lastly, I mentioned replayability as an added bonus. Each minigame will have a Time Trial or Highscore mode depending on the game that can be played at anytime. Resources permitting I would also like to add an additional CG reward for breaking a set record. In this case for example that could be some art of Nekome waking up and covering herself embarrassedly, or in chase of the thieving slime.

Viewing the collected artworks

The last part that I want to touch on is the viewing and presentation of the collected images. In a lot of Altarune’s CG cases it doesn’t make sense to have the images “exist” in the game world as it might in other ones. In HuniePop for example the characters send you pictures of themselves on your phone, giving them a more physical presence. While this doesn’t really fit for Altarune I still wanted to give them some kind of world integration and not just have them be a totally abstract gallery of images. To help ground them in the world somewhat I have decided to have all images be placed on magical scrolls. Not only does this give them a nice, themed appearance; it also gives me a nice in-game storage medium for pictures taken by the player in Play Mode. I had planned a “camera” tool to begin with, and making that into a spell that stores the images on scrolls fits well thematically. CG and player-created images can share the same gallery space. I can also use these scrolls for showing save games for example.

Another feature I had considered before was some way of storing character states/ personalities – essentially save files for your characters within a single save game. Another potential idea was capturing and storing monsters like slimes so you can play with them in Play Mode later. I have no idea if these ideas will actually make it in, but it does leave the door open for a not-too-far-fetched idea of Soul Scrolls or something of the like for both cases. In trying to figure out a nice way to store and display CG art I inadvertently landed on a general design for a “storage medium” within the game.

Whew, that was a big read, but hopefully an interesting one! Catch you in the next one,

– Tomato out!